Chris Verene: Just the Facts of Our Dysfunction

THE DAILY PIC: The photographer documents America's 21st-century underclass.


THE DAILY PIC: At Postmasters gallery in New York, Chris Verene is presenting a wonderful spread of photos and videos that depict the plight of America’s 21st-century underclass – which happens to include some of the Illinois-born artist’s friends and relations. (Click on my image, titled Candi and Eric’s Kids in the Camper, to watch a Verene video that fills in that still photo’s backstory. The video is called My Cousin Candi and her Second Wedding.)

What I particularly appreciate in Verene is his just-the-facts-ma’am approach, without bells or whistles or obvious stylistic chops. (I say “obvious”, because straightforwardness is a kind of anti-style style that’s been much in vogue for several decades now.) It’s interesting to note how any of these photos – and maybe any photograph at all – feels more composed, and thus artistic, than the videos that use many of the same approaches. The stills link back to the vast history of artistic images, and thus seem part of it, whereas the videos have fewer precedents and thus an easier time being read as transparently documentary. Or is it just that the subjects in moving pictures always seem more transparently present than those in stills, and thus less artfully pictorial?

Given the current grim state of our American reality, and its dim prospects, this seems the perfect moment for artists like Verene to just show things as they are. Is it an accident that the great age of formal play, and of art’s divorce from reality, came during America’s three decades of postwar prosperity and optimism? (Courtesy Postmasters Gallery, New York

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